How Kavanaugh will change the Supreme Court

It has been difficult to precisely measure the ideology of federal appeals court judges such as Kavanaugh, mostly because of the large number of courts and the wide variation in issues considered by them, so there is some debate over just how conservative he will be when he reaches the highest court in the land. But every available measure, and the entries on his résumé, indicate that Kavanaugh will be conservative, and perhaps very much so. Judicial Common Space scores, for example — which use the ideology of nominating politicians for measuring the ideology of appeals judges — put him adjacent to the arch-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, as seen below. And Kavanaugh did little during his confirmation hearing to disabuse observers of this possibility — at one point, he called the allegations against him (which he vehemently denied) “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”

Wherever Kavanaugh ends up within the court’s ideological spectrum, he will quickly get to work. The court is currently working through a “quiet docket,” one that lacks the kinds of cases that would match the drama of the confirmation process. But larger issues will eventually bubble their way up through the judiciary — hypothetically, and most prominently, abortion rights and Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act and maybe even a case related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in Russian interference in the 2016 election. How Kavanaugh’s conservatism and Roberts’s concern for the image of the court might interact remains to be seen. The laws of the land will be shaped by it.